Avoiding the Jelly Mould

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Many people who lose a baby also lose their confidence – it’s hardly surprising that when one of our most basic functions doesn’t function ‘correctly’ we start to question everything, and lose confidence both in the world around us and ourselves. To be suddenly faced with the very new, very frightening and very unfamiliar feelings of being a bereaved parent is so outside our experience and, usually, the experiences of those around us. No-one knows what to expect and the tendency is to greatly underestimate both the strength and the duration of our feelings, so that what is known to the more knowledgeable as very normal may seem both to the bereaved and their associates as gross over-reaction. At this time we often feel ‘jelly -like’, quivering and formless and so uncertain of ourselves, especially our feelings and reactions, that we may tend to rely on those around us to show what is and is not appropriate. It’s easy for them to make a mould into which we slide, so that to outward appearance we are the people that others want us to be. Someone coping, someone positive, a confident forward-looking person who is unlikely to cause distress by harking back to that ‘incident’ which by now they are surely almost over. Unfortunately, the ‘little’ person inside may still be unhappy, Uncertain confused and perhaps frightened. Added to that is the frustration of not feeling allowed to show that person to the outside world, and guilt because, being so unsure, we can’t be certain whether our feelings are valid or whether we should be feeling as others obviously expect us to.

Most friends and family, however close previously and however hard they try, rarely have a full idea of how bad we can feel, partly because we don’t share our full feelings, especially those that seem inappropriate, wrong, or even wicked. To think, even momentarily, when exasperated with the disturbed behaviour of an unhappy toddler “The wrong one died” causes such shame and guilt it can’t be shared. To look at a pregnant woman and think, however fleetingly, “I wish it would happen to you, so you know what it feels like” again makes one feel so guilty, almost wicked, it must be kept secret. To wonder resentfully why your young babe should die when some aged relative thrives seems such an unspeakably wrong thought it has to be kept hidden, yet both these and many other “unacceptable” reactions are so natural, although probably only fully understood by those who’ve felt the same.

Actions may also seem bizarre; the familiar cradling of the baby that isn’t there, or the instinctive response to the cry of that babe, whom you may never have heard cry, may make you feel you are going mad. That fear, along with the other strong emotions, is too scary to share with those who may be alarmed by them. By now it is realised that although many reactions and feelings are very typical and shared by most bereaved parents, others are totally individual but that does not make them wrong. People react to crises according to their development up to that point – their whole history, including the experience around the loss of their baby is so totally their own that it would be very unusual to find any two people reacting in exactly the same way. This can cause problems if you expect your partner to react as you do – it is a quite unrealistic expectation. For even though the baby belonged to both of you, and you remained together throughout the experience so that your loss may appear to be the same, you are each individual with different life experiences both before and during this most major event.

Generally you may be reassured by talking to your befriender and other Sands members, that the way you feel in the months and years after baby loss are normal and although no one can stop your fear or guilt about those feelings. NO ONE has that right or power, I would urge you to have confidence in your feelings and say this is the way I feel. These are my feelings. No-one has the right to tell me they are wrong, for they are mine and I’m entitled to feel as I dot.. Try to avoid being squeezed into a mould made by others – it may become very tight and when it eventually shatters, as it must, the emergence of long-established but newly expressed feelings can be quite traumatic for all concerned.’

Sue Young